This week in science – Jan. 7

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

Unemployment may lead to premature aging in men

A recent study which examined over 5,500 individuals showed that work can help fight off premature aging in men. Scania Group/Flickr commons

A recent study which examined over 5,500 individuals showed that work can help fight off premature aging in men. Scania Group/Flickr commons

Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oulu in Finland have discovered evidence that could link long-term unemployment with premature aging.

The study examined the telomeres which are found on the ends of DNA. Telomeres are objects at the ends of chromosomes which protect the chromosome from decaying. Telomeres gradually degrade and shorten over a person’s life and short telomeres are linked with age-related diseases.

The study followed a group of 5,620 men and women over a three year period. Taking into account all other societal and biological factors the study found that men who were unemployed for at least two of the three years were twice as likely to have shortened telomeres.

The study was not able to reach a definitive conclusion on women. Women seemed less affected by unemployment, but there were also fewer women in the study that were unemployed for at least two of the three years. The researchers say further work is needed before a conclusion can be reached for women.

Find out more: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/news/health

 

Increasing brain plasticity through a pill

 A mood-stabilizing drug, valprioc acid, can return our brain plasticity to that of a child, enabling us to easily pick up abilities such as absolute pitch. Brandon Giesbrecht/Flickr commons

A mood-stabilizing drug, valprioc acid, can return our brain plasticity to that of a child, enabling us to easily pick up abilities such as absolute pitch. Brandon Giesbrecht/Flickr commons

When we are young our brains are remarkably moldable. Up until the age of seven our brain is easily able to learn new concepts such as language with relatively little exposure, a task that our older brains find quite difficult.

Researchers at Harvard have discovered that a mood-stabilizing drug, valprioc acid, also changes our brain plasticity to the level of an infant, increasing our ability to easily absorb information.

The study took a group of men who received no musical training as a child and asked them to take a series of music training exercises over a two week period as they took this drug. The end result was absolute pitch, the ability to identify a note simply by hearing it.

“It’s quite remarkable since there are no known reports of adults acquiring absolute pitch,” Takao Hensch, one of the lead researchers on the study, said to NPR during a radio interview.

Find out more: http://www.npr.org

 

Stronger babies through vitamin D

Researchers at the University of Southampton have discovered a possible link between strength in children and vitamin D levels in mothers through pregnancy.

The study, which was published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, followed 678 mothers during pregnancy. The mothers who had higher levels of vitamin D had stronger children.

The children were assessed for grip strength at the age of four and the higher the levels of vitamin D the stronger the grip. There was also a smaller relationship between muscle mass and vitamin D although the researchers admit that this aspect needs more study as muscle mass tends to peak in young adulthood.

Find out more: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/mediacentre/